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In a surprising move, the three organisers of the Tour de France, Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy have decided to pull out of the UCI ProTour for 2006. The future of the ProTour, introduced in 2005 by the International Cycling Union (UCI) to showcase the sport's 27 top events in a season-long competition, has been thrown into doubt after the three grand tours of France, Italy and Spain decided not to continue to be a part of the competition.
The decision, following a meeting by the three organisers - ASO (Tour de France), Unipublic (Tour of Spain) and RCS (Tour of Italy) - in Paris on Thursday means that 11 events are set to be pulled from the ProTour.
The Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Flche Wallonne, Lige-Bastogne-Lige and Paris-Tours are all owned by ASO, while RCS-organised events Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, the Giro d'Italia and Tour of Lombardy join the list with Unipublic's Vuelta a Espa¤a.
It would leave what's left of the ProTour with just 16 events, with arguably only the Dauphin Libr, the Tour of Switzerland and the Tour of Flanders living up to the 11 breakaway events in terms of quality and history, which are widely thought to be the sport's 'monuments'.
A statement by the three organisers of the grand tours was yet to be followed up by the same from the UCI, but it is thought that cycling's governing body will also make a statement shortly.
The information given by ASO, RCS and Unipublic states that the UCI proposed that the 11 events remained part of the ProTour circuit for 2006, and then could be part of a separate circuit in 2007.
But that, said ASO chief Patrice Clerc, would be pointless, simply "maintaining the status quo" of 2005. Instead, the 11 events will be pulled out of the ProTour with immediate effect.
The 20 ProTour teams will still be eligible to ride the 11 departing events in 2006, but the three grand tours of Italy, France and Spain will come under the banner of a new competition: the Grand Tour Trophy.
Teams will compete in all three grand tours for an overall prize fund of 2 million euros, with 600,000 euros going to the winner. To encourage the 20 teams to ride all three events, each team will be given 100,000 euros.
From 2007, the grand tour organisers will organise a top league of 14 teams, who will automatically qualify for the three tours, allowing each organiser to select up to eight wild cards for their event. This was one of the major sticking points with the UCI ProTour; that the national tours wanted control of being able to select smaller, domestic teams, in doing so promoting domestic sponsors.
It was widely believed that a deal would be struck between the two parties, but this decision by the grand tour organisers now throws the future of the ProTour, and indeed the sport, into doubt.
ASO, Unipublic and RCS, clearly unhappy with the controlling hand of the UCI, are confident that their events are more than capable of running themselves with the years of organising experience behind them without the influence and politics of a governing body.
Rest assured that procycling will keep you up to date with this story as it develops.
The 11 events that will break away from the ProTour:
-Tour de France
-Vuelta a Espa¤a
-Tour of Lombardy
The remaining 16 events of the ProTour:
-Tour of Flanders
-Tour of the Basque Country
-Tour of Romandy
-Tour of Catalonia
-Tour of Switzerland
-Team time trial
-HEW Cyclassics Cup
-Eneco Tour of Benelux
-San Sebastian Classic
-GP Ouest France-Plouay
-Tour of Poland
-Championship of Zurich
Grand tours pull out of ProTourClose
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